For years I have been intrigued by how and why it is so difficult for me to learn how to communicate using the Thai language (as any reader of my blog has heard me say many times over the past 11 years). In fact, my lack of success is part of the reason I started working on a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics. The complexity of language is fascinating to me, and diving into some of the linguistic theories about how languages actually work has been a lot of fun over the past two years. (But my Thai is still not very good!)
As part of my studies and interests in this field, I am always on the lookout for good blogs about language. One of my very favorites was written by Scott Thornbury called An A-Z of ELT (English Language Teaching). Every Sunday, Scott would post a very thought-provoking essay about some Applied Linguistics topic, such as Autonomy, Krashen, Post-Modern Methods, or many others.
Unfortunately, Scott decided to end the A-Z blog last month, but in its place is an even more interesting blog, at least for me personally. Scott has lived in Spain for 30 years, but claims that his Spanish skills have not improved in a very long time. So in his new blog, he will be looking at “de-fossilizing” his Spanish language learning, from an academic perspective. As he says,
I am going to do this using a number of means, including formal instruction, vocabulary memorization, extensive reading and (if I can find it) informal interaction. At the same time, I plan to inform the process by occasional reference to the literature on second language acquisition (SLA), including such issues as motivation, age effects, aptitude, exposure, fluency, error correction, and identity formation.
Since I have recently restarted my own de-fossilization (if you want to call it that) by focusing on vocabulary memorization of Thai words for now, I am very interested to hear what Scott has to say on his own language learning journey. If you are interested in language learning at all, I also recommend that you follow along at The (de-) fossilization diaries.
My personal perspective on this is that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, ie, you don’t learn because you don’t need to.
Many years ago I met a young man who had spent a year studying at one of the Thai boxing camps in Isaan. He was the only farang in the place and had spent 12 months sleeping, working and eating with young Thai men. Needless to say, his Facility in the spoken language far surpassed mine. I had studied the language, at that time for a full year at university, taking instruction from a native speaker, while he had no formal instruction at all.
Now, many years later, the only time I make any effort with the language is when I visit the country!
I don’t know anything about you but suspect that you simply have no need to communicate in Thai past a certain level of complexity and so your subconscious decides for you that you’re energies are better deployed elsewhere!
I could be win wrong, or right. Whatever, Thai is a fascinating language. It’s compactness and efficiency are a marvel to me, as a native English speaker. I also have to admit to wondering how in some situations Thai people get by with such an ambiguous system.
Thanks for the thoughtful reply. Apologies for the late response to you!
Yes, you are absolutely right that I don’t NEED to learn Thai to survive here, and so far, my energies are better spent elsewhere, or so it seems. At this point, learning Thai is more of an intellectual challenge for me than a life-saving one. But there are definitely times when I am with Thais who don’t really speak English well (like dinner with my Thai partner’s family, for example) where I wish I could contribute to the conversation. So I keep plodding along, pulling out my vocabulary flashcards every now and then and slowly (very slowly) improving.